Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 25th February 2019.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:28 pm, 25th February 2019

In effect it will be for the HSE, as the regulator, to make decisions on each level of the process. I have no reason to doubt that the HSE and ECHA will have similar principles in how they go about this. We are not seeking a change in any policy to move away from the REACH process.

It is fair to say that the UK has been trying to get some chemicals restricted much more quickly than ECHA and other EU member states have sought, so there may be opportunities to move more quickly on some of these matters. Again, it will be a judgment call for the HSE on whether to make that recommendation to the Secretary of State.

As for stakeholders, we held a series of informal briefings last summer at which we outlined the proposed regulatory approach, and representatives from the chemicals sector and beyond and other stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations and scientific societies, came to those briefings. Since then, we published a technical notice in September and additional guidance in December and continued with more stakeholder engagement to explain in detail what UK REACH is and what it means for industry. The House will also be aware that I invited MPs, particularly those with chemicals companies in their constituency, to attend briefings.

I recognise the concerns about why businesses have to submit data to the HSE when they have previously registered with ECHA and the potential costs involved. Such concerns were also expressed in the report by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in the other place. As the Government said in the White Paper, we want a strong deal under which the UK will continue to participate fully in EU REACH and the work of the ECHA. The impact assessment considered the question of data in detail, and the Regulatory Policy Committee stated that the assessment used a proportionate level of evidence to support estimates of the impacts, including impacts on business. We should not expect a repeat of the costs of complying with EU REACH. For example, businesses that have already invested in putting together the EU registration dossier will not face administration costs again.

To be clear about the importance of information. The “no data, no market” principle is fundamental to REACH, and we will not weaken that in any way. It underpins effective chemicals management by both industry and the regulator. We cannot rely on the fact that such data has already been sent to ECHA. It is simply not correct to say that a chemical is deemed to be safe once it has been registered under EU REACH. Registration is how a company shows its understanding of the hazards and how to control the risks, but it does not mean that ECHA and other regulators have approved that chemical or endorsed it as safe.

ECHA will not evaluate the UK dossiers that it received for the June 2018 deadline. ECHA has also stated that, in the majority of dossiers it opens for evaluation, it needs to follow up with requests for important safety information on chemicals, meaning that the company’s safety measures may also not be adequate. Only the UK agency will be able to provide the assurance that chemicals are safely managed in the UK. To give a sense of scale, we will be grandfathering over 12,000 registrations into UK REACH—35% of them from 2018—representing 5,700 chemicals. Looking forward, we would then expect 50 to 100 new chemicals to be registered each year. We have much less understanding of how many notifications there will be for chemicals imported from the EU, because there is currently no duty to report that information in most cases. That emphasises the importance of the notification process so that we know what chemicals are being used in the UK.

REACH is one of the largest and most complex pieces of EU legislation and Members and others have rightly wondered how we would transfer it into UK law. I am confident that the provisions in these regulations mean that we will continue to ensure the highest levels of protection for human health and the environment, based on robust evidence and strong scientific analysis.